Two and half years ago, I was walking on a treadmill at the gym and a memory came to me of how I’d always wanted to write a book.
I’ve been very busy for the past thirty or so years, so I suppose calling myself a late bloomer is appropriate. On this particular night, however, I felt something come over me as if I was possessed. I’m not sure what triggered it or whether the thought came from somewhere internally or I saw or heard something that brought it to the surface. All I knew was I had a story to tell. I didn’t know it then but apparently, I had many stories to tell. Here I am three published stories later with no end in sight—thank goodness.
Here’s how it all started.
In February of 2012, my life was a lot different than it is right now. My son in law was in the Navy and was stationed in Virginia Beach, Va. My daughter and at the time, two year old granddaughter were living there as well and my youngest son was active in the marching band in school, so he was away most evenings. This left my husband and I with a lot of time on our hands for the first time in many years. So what did we decide to do to keep busy? We joined a gym. Not that we didn’t need to get more exercise and lose some weight but it clearly started out of boredom. However, a momentum kicked in and the next thing we knew, we liked it. Well, he liked it. By May, I liked how my body was changing and how strong I felt but the gym wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind to do with so much free time. I wanted to write that book but I knew it would take a level of dedication beyond anything I had undertaken and I only had three months to do it. My daughter and granddaughter would be coming home for good in August.
I did have other interests and things I liked to do but in order to write the book, I had to put them aside.
I did a lot of artwork as well. I love to draw and paint and also spent a great deal of time on that hobby. I’m a pretty good artist but realistically, I knew I’d never be at the level I wanted to be without completely submersing myself in it. I had free time but not that much free time. Instead, what happened was, these voices started showing up and whispering in my ear as I walked on that treadmill, distracting me constantly from conversations, interrupting my thoughts while I was working and making me turn the music down while I was driving..so I could hear them.
I began staying up very late.
I started taking notes. I would jot down sentences, conversations and images of a story that was building inside of my head. I could begin to see their faces—especially their eyes. Finally, I decided to commit myself to finding out who these people where and just dedicate myself to writing their story. One of them stood out to me above the rest and she ended up with the name Teagan. Teagan’s sole purpose at first was protecting her baby brother whose name became Ennis. Only after I started writing the story did she open up to me and reveal that she had dreams and aspirations of her own and show me that fiery personality and spirit.
Character development is a passion of mine.
All of these children poured out of my head one by one. I named them according to their personalities based on Irish name meanings. One way I’ve found to stay true to your characters is how you name them. I can’t just pull names out of the air because they sound good or are dramatic. I research names carefully and based on the time, nationality, religion and / or the generation I’m writing about. It worked perfectly for me. Each child’s (character’s) personality in the book represents the meaning of their name. Staying true to that meaning gave them all uniqueness and the really fun part was writing them as each persona evolved throughout Ennis’ ordeal as well as how they related to one another as the story unfolded.
Historical fiction is a challenge worth facing.
I didn’t choose historical fiction. It chose me. I began to do a lot of research. I chose a setting I knew quite a bit about already as I’d been to the Wyoming Valley many times growing up and my mother’s family all hailed from the Wilkes-Barre area. I knew what the people were like, their sensibilities and values and all of that became the foundation on which I built the Whelan family. I often speak of my own family; me being the youngest of eleven children and how those individual souls gave me so much material to work with but to get the setting right in 1881, I had to dig deep into the past and immerse myself in the landscape, culture and ideology of the time. It was quite a history lesson/journey and one I am so grateful my heart led me to take.
I got a little carried away and put the cart before the horse.
Within three months, I had completed my novel. I didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do with it. I had barely told my family and friends what I was doing but since I was planted on my sofa with my laptop night after night until the wee hours for weeks, I’m sure they knew something was up. I’m sure my emotional distance was a concern but once I explained it to those outside of my chapter by chapter beta reading “sewing” circle of friends, everyone was very supportive and wished me luck but of course they didn’t have a clue either of what came next. There I was, all “dressed up” with a manuscript and nowhere to go.
Did I mention I’m a fast learner?
Almost immediately–and while my friend Kathy was working on the first round of edits on my book, I went on a treasure hunt, looking for the best web sites about publishing and how to find an agent. At the time, I had no interest in self-publishing because I didn’t even know it existed. No, I’m not kidding. That’s how uninformed I was. I would say that’s how dumb I was but it wasn’t stupidity, it was simply that I didn’t know–I had no reason to know prior to writing the book. However, once I did know, I decided I’d try the traditional route first. Of course, I didn’t even take into consideration that this was a whole new set of goals, lessons and trials. None of that mattered to me though. The only care I had was to get published. I found a web site named http://agentqueryconnect.com/ and started reading, practicing and writing queries. I flew by the seat of my pants. One word that popped up again and again was NETWORK.
No matter how you publish your book, you absolutely must get involved in social networking.
I joined a writer’s support group named the Author Social Media Support Group or ASMSG for short. I met some of the most wonderful people who were so generous and supportive. I followed them, they followed me and whatever they did that worked, I did it. I followed their blogs, advice and examples and changed my old rusty Twitter account into something more professional and I started a blog of my own. I began to feel as if I’d passed through the wardrobe into Narnia or fallen down the rabbit hole. A new and exciting world began to open up before me and I couldn’t get enough of it. It isn’t about retweeting, following and nodding with a favorite. This is about building relationships with your peers and supporting each other. I felt like I was waking up from a deep sleep and my true self—my calling if you will was so loud it was about to shatter my eardrums. I’d put FIREFLIES through two edits and it still needed a good scrubbing but I didn’t care. I pushed onward and lived and breathed the literary world. As much as I wanted to just drown myself in the literary Olympic swimming pool, I knew I needed more time to educate myself on the pool rules before I even dropped my towel. In truth, I wasn’t anywhere near ready for the exposure but the wild child in me couldn’t resist dipping my toe in.
I began to query agents.
Another site I found while studying the process through the first web site was http://www.querytracker.net/ , where I was able to search agents who represent the genre of book I’d written. I need to add here that when I wrote FIREFLIES, I had no idea how many genres there were. I read a lot but I never paid much attention to all of the genres and sub genres that are out there. Again, details, details. I chose historical fiction / paranormal. I knew there were other elements to the book but I figured those were the most obvious. I set up a spread sheet with all of the agents I’d queried. I set up a special mailbox in my e-mail only for queries. I sent about five a week for the whole month of October 2012. I waited. Now mind you, I wrote, revised, shortened, lengthened and tweaked until I hated every word of them but I refused to quit. Sometimes I believe I was published because the universe grew weary of fighting me. I can be a tenacious monster.
Finding more options became a necessary cut off road.
Throughout this journey, I kept a close eye on the side roads. One of those was Twitter. I began following literary agents and watching their tweets. Some of them are very open with what they want to see and what they don’t. I found this incredibly valuable information. One in particular became a favorite of mine because she would tweet almost every query she read on a daily basis and give a 140 character or less impression of that query and what she loved or didn’t about it. I took notes. Not that there was a particular pattern to her choices but I began to see where so many writers were making the same mistake and I swore I’d never put anything in my query about how my friends and family loved my book or how I expected to be represented. I’m serious. Some of the things people put in their queries are just plain crazy. Don’t be crazy. Follow the formula and always and I do mean ALWAYS go to that agent’s web site, read about them, find out who they are and send them exactly what they are asking for. I cannot stress this enough and don’t take rejection personally. Google some of the rejections some of the greatest writers of all time received.
I’m not sure what I expected but I was rejected…a lot.
I was rejected more times than I can remember. Occasionally I received a request for the first three chapters or ten pages or even one hundred words but in the end, by the middle of December, I was lining up my list for more queries for January. Most literary agents take a few weeks off over the holidays. I certainly don’t blame them. However, I had no intention of taking a break and had already started writing another book. Twitter activity was winding down but there were still some agents posting and chatting and I was still watching and learning. By then, I had mastered Twitter and all of its neighborly social etiquette. I had made some very cool friends and found a few mentors along the way. My web site was picking up a few followers here and there and creatively, I’d never felt better. Every rejection I received was nothing more than one less no I’d have to read. Until one day right around Christmas, I decided to follow a small, fairly new boutique publisher. I had queried a few before along with the agents but I figured what the heck. I noticed she said she wasn’t accepting any queries over the holidays so I tweeted her and asked if I could send mine the first week in January. She sent me a message and said I could send it right then and there and she’d take a look at it. A week later, she asked me for the first three chapters. A few days later she asked me for the whole manuscript.
A few days before New Year’s, she e-mailed me and told me she wanted to work with me.
A few days later, we chatted and she explained to me that she was new and just getting started but that she really wanted to publish my book. The next day, I signed my contract to work with her. She has worked tirelessly to promote my books, promote me and has grown leaps and bounds from that little start up. Although I do a tremendous amount of work myself, I know I’d have to do that even if I had an agent and a contract with one of the big boys. I look at it this way; if at some point one of them comes knocking, I’ll open the door but until then, GMTA – Ravenswood Publishing took a chance on me and my little story and I’ll never forget that.
My little story that “wasn’t what we’re looking for right now,” became an award winning novel.
So, here I am living my dream of being a writer. I may not be living it according to what some may define as a dream; I’m not rich, I still work full time and I certainly don’t have some big book deal. I’m rich in knowing that from the moment I started this journey, whatever it took, I believed I would be published. I never allowed myself to doubt it. I’m finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Better late than never. I haven’t compromised or succumbed to the pressure to write what sells or give up because everything didn’t go according to the way I originally imagined it would but so what? The journey has been so fulfilling and it continues to surprise and delight me every day. The people I’ve grown close to and developed professional as well as personal relationships with, I wouldn’t have discovered on any other road.
This is only the beginning of my fantastic voyage. Every day I wake up and raise my sails in search of my next adventure and I’ll always ask the question, “Won’t you join me?”